Thin Air by Ann Cleeves, a review.

Thin Air written by Ann Cleeves

Thin Air is set in The Shetland Isles the story centres on a wedding and a legend of the ghost of a young girl lost to the sea in 1930. When one of the wedding guests, a bridesmaid is reported missing Jimmy Perez and Sandy Wilson are sent to help find her. The discovery of the missing woman’s body in a loch turns a hunt for a missing woman into a murder investigation. Willow Reeves joins Perez and Wilson to lead the investigation.

I read a lot of crime fiction as well as writing some. Thin Air is the first of Ann Cleeves’ Shetland series I have read; I found it a difficult read. The story seemed to take a good while to get into its stride. I had the impression the author started the book stopped then took up the story later fitting bits in as she went. It is an interesting story set in the far North of the British Isles, a part I would like to visit. Although the pictures of the weather, terrain and communities are well drawn there seems to be a tiredness in the telling of the story. The plot is interesting and convoluted, and the characters are believable but it took me a long while to read it.

I don’t know if all the Shetland stories are written in the same way a steady gathering of threads or if this one is less lively than some of the others, I will have to see. Ann Cleeves writes well but I preferred other Ann Cleeves books I have read.

The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah, a review.

The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah

I am grateful to Niche Comics and Book Shop of Huntingdon, in particular to Angela Mackey of the said establishment. Angela regularly organises events in Huntingdon bringing many well-known authors into the town’s Commemoration Hall to discuss their writing and books. The only problem it gives me is trying to sneak the books into our house which I buy at these events without my wife noticing, she thinks that we have far too many books already.

A while back I was at an event where two authors, Alison Bruce and Sophie Hannah; were in discussion with a gentleman whose name escapes me (I’m sorry I should have been taking notes.)

I am familiar with Alison’s work and a great fan, Sophie Hannah was a name I recognised but hadn’t read anything of hers. I enjoyed the evening and came away with a copy of Sophie Hannah’s Monogram Murders; I have copies of all Alison’s novels.

It is a long while since I have read any of Agatha Christie’s books and I must admit I am not a huge fan of hers, so I hesitated and prevaricated about starting to read Ms Hannah’s take on Agatha Christie’s famous Belgium detective.

The story starts when Poirot’s supper is disturbed by a distraught young woman entering the café where he is dining. She is convinced that she is soon be murdered.

Three murders take place at the Bloxham Hotel in London on that very same night. The victim’s bodies are found in separate rooms on different floors. Hercule Poirot assists Catchpool a Scotland Yard detective, who lives at the same lodgings as Poirot; investigate the murders. Before very long Poirot is in charge of the case with Catchpool, the narrator trying to keep up with Poirot’s thought processes.

The plot is engaging; constantly twisting and turning, to wrong-foot the reader.

I prefer Sophie Hannah’s version of a Poirot mystery to any I have read penned by Agatha Christie; I shall read more of Sophie’s books.

A very old cottage, 3 East Delph Whittlesey.

3 East Delph Whittlesey, East Delph Cottage

East Delph Cottage

Knowing of my interest in local history Mrs Bullen kindly lent me her book of the history of her home in Whittlesey, 3 East Delph, a seventeenth-century cottage.

Samantha Broughton’s book of the cottage’s history. The drawing on the cover is by Mrs P A Mager

The book was written by a former occupier, I assume. The cottage was owned by Stuart Broughton between 1992 and 1998. The author is Samantha Broughton, B.A.(Hons.), M.Ar.Admin, the book is dated, 1993.

Ms Broughton’s research is meticulous and detailed it must have taken a considerable amount of time to compile this incredibly interesting record.

The book is passed on with the cottage as it changes hands, a wonderful idea.

Until reading this I was unaware of Copyhold as a form of property ownership I was familiar with Freehold and Leasehold but this form of lease, from the lord of the manor, was new to me.

James Loomes bought the land from the Earl of Portland, Lord of the Manor in1655, thereafter paying an annual rent of 4 pence. The cottage was built soon after and remained in the hands of the Loomes family for close to another 90 years. After a succession of owners between 1744 and 1838. The cottage was purchased in 1838 by the Oldfield family and it remained in their hands until 1955, over 100 years.

A former occupier of the cottage.

Arnold Taylor bought the cottage in 1955, living there until 1988.

In 1989 and 1990 according to electoral records the house was occupied by Graham and Caroline Venters.

After remaining unoccupied the cottage was bought by Stuart Broughton in 1992 he remained there until 1998.

Between 1999 and 2003 the cottage was occupied by Gary and Lorna Simms.

The account ends at this date.

Over the years the cottage has been occupied by Wheelwrights, Thatchers,  Blacksmiths, farmers and agricultural labourers amongst others. It has no doubt seen births, deaths, happy times and sad. This account must have taken many hours of careful and painstaking research, there is included in the book are copies of manorial records, deeds, wills and maps.

This is an outstanding document to pass on with this cottage, genuinely a piece of living history.

On a separate note, the narrow street that runs past the front of the cottage is believed to be one of the town’s oldest roads as was known in the past as Town Lane. The road was probably connected to a causeway to Thorney used by monks travelling to and from Thorney Abbey.

The Cottage would have been on the very edge of the fens when it was built.

Town Lane is one of Whittlesey’s oldest streets. The oddly shaped house was built by a former owner of the cottage for a relative.

This is a fantastic written record and I am grateful to Mrs Bullen for allowing me to read through it.

A bit of Public Speaking

Me with my book, Killing Time in Cambridge with the Grasshopper Chronophage at Corpus Christi College Cambridge
Me with my book, Killing Time in Cambridge with the Grasshopper Chronophage at Corpus Christi College Cambridge

I was given the opportunity to talk about writing and my novel twice during this last week. On Tuesday I was invited to speak at a local Women’s Institute meeting and on Thursday at The August Book Bank event at Huntingdon’s Commemoration Hall.

I haven’t spoken in public for a very long time and then it was only once. I can’t even remember what the talk was about.

It was very kind of both the Whittlesey Women’s Institute (W I) and Niche Comics and Books in Huntingdon to invite me.

I was able to tell the attentive W I audience about the tremendous help and collaborative effort of the u3a Whittlesey Wordsmiths, to which I belong. The group encourages its members to write, help hone their skills and see their work in print and published. It is the mutual support and collaboration that has helped all of us within the group to succeed, including me.

The W I audience was engaging and their questions were interesting.

Best-selling author Emma Rous with her first novel The Au Pair

At, Huntingdon I was invited to give a short talk to an audience which included the best-selling author Emma Rous, about my book Killing Time in Cambridge. I was invited to read a well-received short extract. After other members of the audience shared experiences of their recent reading the local best-selling author, Emma Rous spoke to us about her writing. She spoke about the decision to give up her profession as a vet to pursue her writing career. By coincidence we both worked at Ramsey, Emma leaving her job as a vet and me retiring in the same year.

It was an interesting talk, Emma gave us insights into the world of professional publishing, explaining the methods and processes of a major publishing house. The changes in titles and cover designs to suit different markets and countries were an eye-opener. The examples on display were remarkable both in variety and concept. The thinking behind the different designs was prompted by serious market research and knowledge of different markets. She also mentioned the willingness of other authors to help and support one another, something even with my limited experience I have found to be the case.

When I spoke to Emma afterwards she told me she enjoyed the piece from my book that I had read aloud to the audience.

We share a love of the Fen country, in particular the skies.

I enjoyed both meetings, particularly the supportive interaction from both audiences.

Thank you Whittlesey Women’s Institute and Niche Books and Comics for the opportunity to share my story.

At the Commemoration Hall with Emma Rous

To read more about Emma Rous visit: http://www.emmarous.com/

For Niche Comics and Books, bookshop visit: http://www.nichecomics.co.uk

The Killing Code by J D Kirk, a review.

The Killing Code by J D Kirk

My daughter knowing of my interest both as a writer and reader of crime fiction gave me a copy of The Killing Code as a birthday present.

I had not read any of J D Kirk’s books before and this was my first encounter with Glasgow’s DCI Jack Logan.

It is always a difficult thing to write a review you want to give a reader a sense of what the book is about but give away as little of the plot as possible.

The story gripped me from the start. After the murder of a nurse, Logan’s desperate search for a brutal killer; kept me metaphorically on the edge of my seat. I raced through the pages, hoping Logan would find the murderer before another death occurred.

I really enjoyed this book it was well written, engaging and credible. I am really grateful to my daughter for introducing me to JD Kirk and DCI Logan; I shall be back to read more books from Mr Kirk.

Alison Bruce at Huntingdonshire History Festival

Alison Bruce at Huntingdonshire History Festival

I try to visit Huntingdonshire History Festival every year attending events that interest me. The month-long festival hosts a number of diverse and interesting events.

Alison Bruce’s talk, “Forensics and Stopping People getting away with Murder”, was hosted and organised by Niche Comics and Books, Huntingdon’s very own unique, independent book shop.

Alison shared her extensive knowledge of forensics and criminology with a spellbound and engaged audience, explaining how advances in forensic science had helped to capture criminals who could without the availability of these techniques have evaded capture. She gave real-life examples of how these advances had helped solve actual cases and the use made of IT by law enforcement agencies to thwart criminals.

Alison believes it is the lack of resources available to the law enforcement agencies which is the biggest obstacle to increasing prosecution rates, not the lack of tools. She also touched on the lack of literacy amongst the prison population believing that it together with poverty is a prime cause of crime.

Alison Bruce is a favourite author of mine; I own copies of just about all her books. She takes her crime writing craft very seriously, her latest degree is in Criminology. Alison lectures at the Anglian Ruskin University, in Cambridge, amongst other things training the police.

A few years ago I was fortunate enough to attend a one-day writing course hosted by Alison at Ramsey, it was organised by Ramsey u3a. It proved to be a very useful day and I learned a lot.

This was an interesting, informative evening with a terrific author and wonderful lady.

Alison with a scruffy old man

I am looking forward to reading her next book promised for 2023.

Alison Bruce

Niche Comics and Books

Huntingdonshire History Festival

July Story Chat: “Not a Proper Job” by Philip Cumberland

Marsha Ingrao - Always Write

If you love to read short stories, you will enjoy Story Chat. For links to all of the stories bookmark the Story Chat Y2 Page. Comments are closed after 30 days because of scammers. If you have comments on other stories, you can make them on this current post.

Something to Think About

  • What theme or themes did “Not a Proper Job” have?
  • What might Sheila’s Grandma say if she understood Sheila’s line of work?
  • What famous story or character does Sheila remind you of?
  • Who do you imagine Sheila’s employer is?
Photo © Philip Cumberland

“Not a Proper Job” by Philip Cumberland

The guided bus was an unusual getaway vehicle, but it had served Sheila well in the past.

It’s their vanity that makes them vulnerable, she thought. What dignitary full of their importance could refuse an honorary doctorate from one of the World’s leading universities?

”More wine…

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Killing with Confetti by Peter Lovesey, a review.

Killing with Confetti by Peter Lovesey

I am a big fan of Peter Lovesey and his hero Peter Diamond. Killing with Confetti has been on my; to be read list for a while now and I wish I had been able to get to it sooner.

We are into the action very early on with a plot that moves from a riot at a prison to the forthcoming marriage of a crime baron’s daughter and a senior police officer’s son. DCS Peter Diamond has the unenviable job of managing the security for the wedding at Bath’s Abbey Church and reception at the City’s Roman Baths; he hopes it won’t prove to be a poisoned chalice.

Peter Diamond has to ensure that Joe Irving the bride’s father, a target for any number of assassins is kept safe. Not an easy job, given Irving’s numerous enemies and with the events taking place in Bath’s historic buildings, offering plenty of hiding places for a killer.

Deputy Chief Constable George Brace, the father of the groom is very anxious the day goes well but whatever the outcome, his association through marriage with Bath’s crime Lord is going to be a difficult one to manage, career-wise.

The responsibility for managing Irving’s safety, a successful wedding and reception weigh heavily on Diamond’s shoulders.

A great read, that kept me engrossed from start to finish.

Paranormal City by Stephen Oliver a review

Paranormal City by Stephen Oliver

Paranormal City is unlike any other city or maybe it isn’t, it could be that this city is also here; unseen in the city we inhabit but hiding in plain sight, sharing its existence but in a different way to the one it lives within.

Paranormal City’s inhabitants walk our streets in a form of normality we recognise, rubbing shoulders with the daily commuters, sharing our places and lives but they are in some way different. These are the werewolves, shapeshifters, vampires, cyborgs, demons and creatures which only become strange to us when assuming their other, true hidden identity. 

Paranormal City becomes the battleground of a titanic struggle between strange forces and creatures. It is a fascinating tale and a damn good read.

Hopefully, these creatures are purely a work of fiction.

Great stuff Stephen, more, please.

Stephen’s Paranormal City is available to buy on Amazon

Silent Voices by Ann Cleeves a review.

Silent Voices by Ann Cleeves

This was my first read of a novel featuring Vera; Ann Cleeves’ DCI Vera Stanhope, as seen on TV, as it says on the cover of this edition of the book. Vera is presented to us, warts and all. Brenda Blethyn is a supremely confident actress to be able to portray this woman so accurately.

The plot is dense, convoluted and engaging, drawing me in from the first moment. After her morning swim, Vera finds the body of a young woman in her local health club’s steam room.

The characters are well-drawn, the descriptions of places and people believable. However, what I found was most interesting, that despite being presented on television with a very believable version of Vera, I found a different Vera in the book. A woman who entered my imagination on her own terms. This for me was extraordinary, although the television Vera is good, I preferred the Vera of my imagination.

It was for me a quick read I wanted to know how the story ended and who the murderer was, I hadn’t worked it out.

A thoroughly good read. I am becoming a fan of Ann Cleeves.

The new bike basket.

The new basket but old bike

I have an ancient Pashley Delibike, similar to the one Granville used in the Open All Hours, television comedy programme; someone once asked me what was I doing with Granville’s bike?

The bike is used primarily for my Sunday Paper rounds but also for litter picking excursions with Whittlesey Sreet Pride and occasional shopping trips.

The large wicker basket used for carrying my papers and other goods finally succumbed to the ravages of time and the base parted company with the sides. I managed a temporary repair by cutting a piece of plywood and fixing it to the frame below the basket’s base while I searched for a replacement.

It had seen better days

I tried local cycle shops, without success, Huntingdon’s Blind Shop used to sell baskets when I was a lad but they no longer do. Finally, I tried the internet. Initial searches found basket makers well out of my area and although the price for the basket was reasonable, when carriage costs were added, things started to mount up.

Eventually, I found a fairly local basket maker, Sue Kirk, based in Kings Cliffe, near to both Oundle and Stamford.

A really great improvement

After an exchange of emails with photographs and dimensions, we agreed on a price and time scale.

Kings Cliffe is a picturesque village of stone houses and in places narrow streets.

The Old Brewery Studios is on Wood Street and itself is an old stone building

of character.

I dropped the bike off in my van and left it to Sue to sort out. Two weeks later I was able to collect my bike with its new basket.

The quality is excellent and the price was very reasonable. However, the new basket puts the rest of the bike to shame, I will have to set to and bring the bike up to the same standard as the basket.

It is great to see traditional crafts still being carried on and to find such outstanding craftspeople, if you are in the market for a willow basket of any kind Sue’s studio is well worth a visit.

Sue Kirk – Willow Baskets (suekirkwillowbaskets.co.uk)

I wrote an earlier post about delivering papers and my bike.

https://fenlandphil.com/?s=Delivering+the+news

A flight of time.

Northern Soul plaque on a door

I watched two thought-provoking programmes one recent Friday evening. The first Keep on Burning, a documentary about Northern Soul reminded me of my own teenage years. My teenage years preceded the Northern Soul era and its music, to a large extent the soundtrack of those later years.

In my own case, the music I enjoyed was predominately Soul and Motown, although the Rolling Stones did get some of my attention. These special years are fleeting. I am sure for a great many of us; as the music changed, as it always does, the magic of those years is quickly lost. There has been good music since, as there was good music before but none that I felt I had the same ownership of, it could never evoke the same memories or hold the same wonder.

Keep on Burning told the story of Northern Soul, from its roots as an underground movement, (much in the way many music genres are born), to its rise and fall in popularity. I had heard of Northern Soul but knew little about it, many of the bands and singers who had performed live at The Twisted Wheel Manchester, the Golden Torch (Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent) and Wigan Casino live were the soul bands that I knew from my teenage years. Martha and the Vandellas, Edwin Starr, Junior Walker and the All-Stars, among them.

Other artists were unknown to me; I had heard some of their names but didn’t know their music.

There are those who resolutely cling to that Northern Soul era, as there are those in every generation; holding on to a time and music that is special for them, their own soundtrack. A hardcore of fans of every music genre clings onto memories, freshened by gigs where for a few fleeting hours they can relive their own time of magic. In that respect, the Northern Soul diehards are little different to those who attend Rock and Roll weekends or live only for times they can watch favourite Trad Jazz bands.

Chic photo from http://www.liveabout.com

Nile Rodgers.

I mentioned good music since; I was not a watcher of top of the pops after the sixties and listened rarely to pop music radio stations. It wasn’t until groups like Chic, Rose Royce, Sister Sledge and in a different genre, Dire Straits had been and often gone that I became aware of them. Fortunately, as they say, their music lives after them, as it has for Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles and so many others.

Nile Rodgers photo Wikipedia

Chic became a particular favourite, I would search out their videos on YouTube and bought CDs. The band’s co-founder and principal songwriter was Nile Rodgers, the BBC 4 programme about him is the first part of a series. I am interested in creative people, things that inspire them and fuel their creativity.

The disco sound and scene formed the special years of another cohort of teenagers, ten maybe fifteen years younger than me although Nile Rodgers is only younger than me by a year. He would have listened to the same music as I had but went on to create music of his own.

 One of his quotes, in particular, struck me, “Find your own style, do not merely imitate someone else.”

As a writer I think I have found my own voice,  there are writers who I admire and who have influenced me but I think my style is my own, my way of seeing the world.

Nile gave an interesting insight into songwriting; with his collaborator Bernard Stevens, who was Chic’s bass player. They started their songs with a hook singing the chorus first, leaving the listener in no doubt what the song is called. The first lines of a story work in the same way to hook the reader, to capture their imagination and attention.

The reference: Drip the sugar in a bit at a time building up for when the chocolate cake comes, is much the same as: “Keep it moving action, action, feed the descriptions in bit by bit with the action.”

For me, this is how a good story should work.

Writing a book? My advice? Let’s Ask The Experts

A mention from an author I admire greatly and this after a fantastic review from the same lady, I am so chuffed.

Eva Jordan

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”––George Orwell

Over the last few years, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing some amazing authors. Each one different, but all equally fascinating. However, I always end my interviews with the same question, namely, what’s your advice to anyone thinking of writing a book or taking up writing? So, this month, I thought I’d take some of those fabulous responses and put them here, in one helpful, and hopefully inspiring article.

The only advice that is guaranteed to be correct is to pick up your pen and begin. Then you are a writer, whatever anyone says. ––Ross Greenwood

It’s a real cliché but read. Read in your genre and out of…

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Only to Sleep by Lawrence Osborne, a review.

Only to Sleep by Lawrence Osborne

Raymond Chandler’s shoes are very difficult to fill. Philip Marlowe, Chandler’s hero is someone who has inhabited the imagination of all those who have read Chandler’s novels. My Marlowe will be different to everyone else’s Marlowe but our own original has its own presence.

‘Poodle Springs’, Chandler’s unfinished novel was completed by Robert B Parker and worked well for me; I have since discovered that Parker wrote another Marlowe novel, ‘Perchance to Dream.’ This is one I will seek out and read.

Marlowe is engaged by The Pacific Mutual Insurance company to investigate the death by drowning of Donald Zinn; before the million dollar payout is made to his widow.

Donald Zinn is an all too easily recognisable pastiche of a contemporary character, one who it appears has followed a similar career path to Zinn’s.

It was a good idea to base the action in Mexico; the location of Zinn’s demise.

Only to sleep didn’t work well for me, perhaps it was taking Marlowe out of his time and place; California’s, the thirties, forties and fifties or maybe at 73 Marlowe just hadn’t aged well. I didn’t recognise him even as an older version of himself

Other Chandler and Marlowe fans may enjoy this book; it just wasn’t a good read for me.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig, a review.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

The title intrigued me.

 I had collected The Midnight Library from my daughter’s, to bring home, she was returning it; it is my wife’s book. I asked her if I could read it.

The story is Nora Seed’s.

Nora lives in Bedford, regrets and depression have inhabited Nora’s life, a life she decides to end the day the things she holds most dear are destroyed around her.

Nora then finds herself in a most unusual library; its librarian is Mrs Elm, the kindly, chess playing, librarian from her schooldays. Mrs Elm helps Nora find the books to help her understand life, her own in particular.

The journey through the books in the library is fascinating, each book adds to Nora’s own story, giving her new insights and understanding into not just her life but life itself. Woven into the story is the theory of the multiverse, something that with even my very vague knowledge of physics; fascinates me.

This is the most exceptional book I have read in a long time. It is a beautiful and moving story.

Blood Sympathy by Reginald Hill, a review

Blood Sympathy by Reginald Hill

This, so far the only one of Reginald Hill’s books I have read.

Despite watching Dalziel and Pascoe on television I wondered whether Hill was of Caribbean heritage, a quick search on Google revealed that he wasn’t. Hill’s choice of a black hero, dealing with the racism of some police, made me think that he could have been a black writer.

It is difficult to write about a Private Eye, Raymond Chandler is always looking over your shoulder. Without the influence of him and Dashie;l Hammett; the genre I’m sure would be less widely populated.

This is Joe Sixsmith’s first outing, forced by redundancy as a result of his employer’s downsizing and middle age, to find something new, Joe embarked on a career as a Private Investigator. Having spent a lifetime in engineering, this was a strange choice.

Joe is a loveable character, harassed by his anxious Aunt Mirabelle, longing to see her nephew settled into the bosom of a suitable wife. His aunt’s matchmaking is just one of many problems; Joe has to deal with as he stumbles his way through cases of drug smuggling and murder.

I do not know if Hill’s fictional Luton is close to the reality of Bedfordshire’s, the one with an airport bearing the same name but it is nonetheless one that works.

I enjoyed this book immensely and will seek out more of Joe Sixsmith’s adventures.

A Bird In The Hand by Ann Cleeves, a review.

A Bird in the Hand by Ann Cleeves

Generally, I only watch a few hours of television a day if at all. Mostly it is crime dramas that attract my attention and they occupy most of my viewing time; my daily ration of dodging the adverts while trying to follow the plot.

I often watch Vera, a series featuring DCI Vera Stanhope as its main character, gradually becoming aware of the name of the Vera books author, Ann Cleeves. Ann is the creator of the programme’s characters. After a recent stint of writing at the local library, (I work better there) I sought out her books happening on her very first; A Bird in the Hand.

It is a very good read, excellent in fact, tightly plotted and populated with well-drawn, interesting characters. The thread that binds both the story and its characters together is bird watching, particularly the community known as “Twitchers”.

When the murdered body of a young twitcher is discovered in the Norfolk coastal marshes; George Palmer-Jones, a retired Home Office investigator is asked to help solve the crime. George is an elderly bird watcher respected by the bird watching community and knowledgeable about the people and their habits. Assisted by his wife Molly, George embarks on discovering the truth behind the brutal killing, we accompany the pair as they tour the country chasing sightings of rare birds while hunting the killer.

It is a brilliant first novel, as it was then. I now know there are many, many more books by Ann Cleeves, for me to read.

I have found a new sweet jar and I will dip into it whenever I can.

The Green Horse written by Stuart Roberts a review

The Green Horse written by Stuart Roberts

Although many of us have heard of the Spanish Inquisition few of us know much about it. The suppression of Islam and the forcible removal of Muslims, the Moors, as Spain violently re-established the supremacy of Roman Catholicism was one of Europe’s darker chapters.

Stuart has set his story in Pamplona, famous for its Bull Run and the area around it. The story is a classic tale of good versus evil, referencing the events of the turbulent and violent times when the Moors were the subject of the most horrendous cruelty. It is a fascinating blend of fantasy, psychological thriller and a love story.  

The book engages from the start and takes on a journey backwards and forwards in time, exploring the very nature of life and humanity.

A good, interesting and thought-provoking read.

The Green Horse is available on Amazon

Book Review – Killing Time in Cambridge by Philip Cumberland

A book review and a Q&A, thank you for your kindness and generosity Eva.

Eva Jordan

“AI is likely to be either the best or worst thing to happen to humanity”­­––Stephen Hawking

This month I interviewed local author (to me) Philip Cumberland (see here), who is also one of the coordinators and founding members of a local U3A Writing Group, Whittlesey Wordsmiths. As well as a contributing author of several anthologies written by the group, Philip has also recently published his debut novel, KillingTime in Cambridge, and this is my review.

The story opens with an axe wielding knight of old, dressed in full body armour, clanking down the corridor of a software company, who then hacks down the office door of the managing director, demanding to know who the ‘master’ is. The poor MD then has a heart attack, the knight disappears, and a short time later the building is besieged by medieval catapults. At this juncture, we are introduced to…

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Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche a review

Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche

Some of us of a certain age and with a certain sense of humour have a great affection for Monty Python’s Flying Circus. There is a sketch in one episode featuring a fictional, (hopefully fictional) Australian University and the induction of a new member of staff. For the sake of simplicity and to avoid confusion everyone on the teaching staff has to be called Bruce. Having established the protocol with the new staff member they go on to sing the Philosopher’s Drinking Song. It starts with; “Aristotle, Aristotle, was a bugger for the bottle and was very rarely sober”, the lyrics continue through a list of philosophers and their supposed drinking habits. At a certain point, Nietzsche gets a mention, “There’s nothing Nietzsche couldn’t teach yer about the raising of the wrist.”

I was looking through some books on the local supermarket’s charity shelf; you take a book and leave a donation, there among the books was Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, in remarkably good condition I handed over 50p and took it home. A week or so ago I listened to part of a lecture my daughter was watching on Zoom, she is studying for a PhD and due to the Covid problems most lectures are online. As her broadband was being unreliable at the time she watched it at our house, one point the lecturer made was that a thesis should be clearly structured and easy to read.

I wish Neitzsche had been given this advice or if he had been, followed it. To say it was badly written would be an understatement. It rambled, digressed and seemed full of contradictions often within the same paragraph, some of these paragraphs consisted of one long rambling sentence several lines long. As a philosopher, a man of ideas you would think he would want his thoughts to be accessible, not so Nietzsche.

This is a translation from the original German and has one assumed been edited; that a translator couldn’t make it any more readable speaks volumes; it was obviously beyond their comprehension too.

Whereas most scientists willingly credit those who have gone before them, Newton said. that he was able to see further as he was able to stand on the shoulders of giants. Not so, Nietzsche, he has no one’s shoulders to stand on apparently and if they were there, no need to stand on them, such is his arrogance. He dismisses Darwin’s work without a shred of evidence, it doesn’t fit in with his view of the world. Supposedly as a “man of reason” he seems to seriously fall short in that department, unresearched theories are asserted as fact without any evidence to support them for example, he dismisses Socialism without any reasoned argument.

He was blatantly a misogynist, a supporter of a master race and a ruling elite, again without any research to support his assertions. Although it is fair to say that he was in many respects racist, he wasn’t, certainly if this book is a reflection on his views anti-Semitic.

There is much within the book that gave ammunition to those of the National Socialist movement in 1930s Germany, Hitler probably read out sections of this book in some of his speeches.

I wish in many respects I hadn’t wasted my time reading this book.

This is, without doubt, the worst book I have ever read, a fellow reviewer on Amazon summed it up in one word, “Nonsense.”

I couldn’t disagree with that at all.

Unleash Your Dreams Written by Stephen Oliver a review.

Unleash your Dreams written by Stephen Oliver

After reading several self-help books of which this is one, I was sceptical. Most of those I had read promised much but delivered very little in the way of help.

Stephen thought there was a gap in the market, a gap between planning and implementation. While there is any number of books about setting goals; grand plans and ideas remain just that; unless there is a clear strategy to turn those plans, ideas and dreams into reality.

Unleash your Dreams is different it gives clear guidance, with links to further useful tools and forms online. It clearly explains the way forward in clear unambiguous language and is an easy read.

Mr Oliver has brought his experience in writing guidance manuals and teaching, often complex subjects to this useful book with great effect.

If you want to unleash those dreams; lose weight, write a book, run a marathon or have settled on some other goal, this is the book to help you make your dreams a reality.

This is the link to Stephen’s blog: http://stephenoliver-author.com/books/

Battle of Britain Air show Imperial War Museum Duxford

Catalina Flying Boat.

My brother treated me to a visit to Duxford Imperial War Museum recently. There was an air show taking place, commemorating the Battle of Britain. The flying displays were fantastic, one can only marvel at the skill and airmanship of the pilots involved. Planes in action included not only Second World War veterans but also some from world war one, both British and German.

World War 1 Biplane

Duxford was itself a front line fighter station in world war two, The legendary Douglas Bader flew from there. All over East Anglia are the remains of airfields brought into action for the conflict a few remain as working aerodromes and airports.

I also had time to wander around some of the hangars, looking at the hardware of war. A young girl in RAF uniform, possibly a cadet was marching up and down a short piece of the road by one of the hangars, perfecting her movements?

Coastal defence gun from Gibraltar

There is a huge Coastal defence gun outside, on display from Gibraltar. In the hangars, I was filled with immense sadness as I moved from exhibit to exhibit on display. Humanity can always find more and more money to kill one another. If the money was more wisely spent on looking after one another, it would save a fortune and millions of lives.

V1. A lady I worked with had gone right through the Blitz in London, she told me these were the only things that had frightened her

We owe that at least to those who so generously sacrificed their lives for a better future for those who lived after them.

Hurricane

Light on Leeds Podcast

Killing Time in Cambridge book cover

I was honoured and delighted to be invited by Hazel to be interviewed for her podcast Light on Leeds.

She wanted to ask me about my writing, my book, the Fens and Cambridge.

Here is the link to her podcast:

https://www.lightonleeds.com/episodes/light-on-episode-4-philip-cumberland-author?fbclid=IwAR0Rqhq61E1ObUfbHK4-Hy2xcySyImPWf4qCk0wfW-HS1UIqFrBSLHzx1VA#

To hear more of Hazel’s podcasts please visit her site.

https://www.lightonleeds.com/

Humble Boy at Tolethorpe Hall

Humble Boy (photo Credit Nick Farka (Red and Round).
The terrific set for Humble Boy

This was my third visit to Tolethorpe Hall, had the Covid crisis not intervened it would certainly have been more. All three visits have one thing in common, the performances were outstanding.

Humble Boy written by Charlotte Jones was exceptionally good, I thoroughly enjoyed it as did all of our party of eight.

The weather was unkind with sporadic heavy showers, luckily most of the heaviest rain fell during the interval.

The play was new to me, it is well written and extremely funny. The acting was excellent the characters were believable, the timing, brilliant.

The set also deserves a mention, as with all the sets for the plays I have seen at Tolethorpe it was beautifully designed, well made and the build quality appeared outstanding.

It was a very professional production.

A truly magical evening, thank you Stamford Shakespeare Company.

I am looking forward to next year’s season of plays.

If this has aroused your interest, please visit Stamford Shakespeare Company’s website: https://stamfordshakespeare.co.uk/

Cambridge Black by Alison Bruce, a review.

Cambridge Black written by Alison Bruce

I find it is always a balancing act when writing reviews, trying not to spoil the plot for would-be readers but giving some sense of what lies between the book’s covers.

Cambridge Black is the seventh in Alison Bruce’s DC Gary Goodhew series. I am sure most readers will like myself have read some, possibly all of the preceding books and have a familiarity with the characters.

The story centres around three quest’s, Amy’s for the truth concerning her father’s conviction for murder, Sue Gully’s search for her father and Gary Goodhew’s hunt for those responsible for his grandfather’s murder.

The story is well-plotted and paced.

Cambridge is as all the Goodhew novels the setting for Cambridge Black. Alison Bruce has a great affection for the city which shows in the writing. I enjoy the familiarity of many places in the story, probably something I share with other fans.

I thoroughly enjoyed the twisting turning story as DC Goodhew and the team pursue the perpetrators of a current and simultaneously two other historic unsolved cases. The writing as always is exceptionally fine, the descriptions and scene-setting excellent. I was racing through the pages towards the end as the story reached its nail-biting climax.

This was retiring DI Marx’s last case; I hope it won’t be the last case for DC Gary Goodhew too.

The Authorised Guide to Grunty Fen (Gateway to the East) by Christopher South. A review.

The Authorised Guide to Grunty Fen by Christopher South

I was at Niche Comics Bookshop in Huntingdon a few weeks ago delivering copies of my books, when my gaze fell on The Authorised Guide to Grunty Fen by Christopher South.

Dennis of Grunty Fen was a celebrated resident of this unusual place and appeared weekly in conversation with Christopher South on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. When I managed to listen to them I was usually reduced to uncontrollable laughter, accounts of Hereward the Wake and his racing punt, the undiscovered vaults beneath Ely Cathedral are just two of the incidents discussed by Dennis and Christopher. There is many, many, many, more each one a gem.

This book gives an account of the area its architecture and inhabitants, it is a long time since I laughed so much that the tears rolled down my face. The Grunty Fen in this book has only mild exaggerations of some of the buildings in the fens. Rusting corrugated iron, railway sleepers together with leaning buildings of all shapes and sizes are not uncommon. The book contains many excellent drawings by John Holder enhancing visually the pictures so eloquently painted in words by the author.

Day to day life in this remote area of the fens is described in detail. For example, the importance of rhubarb both as a staple part of the diet and a means of communication is carefully described as are local competitive sports, Drain Rodding as a sport is unique to the area.

Sadly Dennis, Pete Sayers, is no longer with us but his spirit lives on I am grateful for the pleasure he and Mr South gave me. Even now there are pilgrims asking directions to Grunty Fen from the surrounding villages in search if not of Dennis but Potts Garage, Mrs Edwards at the Post Office, The Wolseley Hen Coop Car and of course Dennis’s home the LNER carriage. Visitors are advised to be wary of Feral Nuns on Vespas.

This book is a wonderful reminder of Sunday mornings on Radio Cambridgeshire, the world is a poorer place without Dennis and the community of Grunty Fen.

There is actually a place called Grunty Fen
This was Grunty Fen in 1648 before much of the fens was drained

To learn more about Grunty Fen and its most celebrated resident, Dennis visit: https://www.dennisofgruntyfen.co.uk/

To find out more about the wonderful bookshop that is Niche Comics Bookshop, visit: https://huntsbooks.co.uk/

The Promise by Alison Bruce, a review.

The Promise by Alison Bruce

I am gradually reading all of Mrs Bruce’s Gary Goodhew books, The Promise is number six of seven.

Each succeeding book is better than the one preceding it; a difficult accomplishment when the first one, Cambridge Blue is so good.

The brutal murder of a homeless man, known to DC Gary Goodhew, prompts his early return to work while still recovering from injuries received during his last case. Cambridge is the setting for this and the books before it, is captured perfectly; the plot is intricate and convoluted, the characters are well drawn, the ending unexpected.

It is a really difficult book to put down until you have finished reading it I have ordered Cambridge Black and I am looking forward to reading it. It has The Promise of being an excellent read.

Meet Me in the Treehouse by Kelly Tink, a review.

Meet Me in the Treehouse

I confess Romantic Fiction is not a genre I would normally read, “Meet me in the tree house” is the first ever book of romantic fiction I have tried.

Kelly’s book is a well written, well crafted novel, exploring Emma’s grief and her accommodation with loss. The grief is for a dead friend. The loss is that of her marriage, itself another form of grieving. Grieving for the hopes, plans and dreams of a future now gone. Emma hesitates to form new relationships or revisit old ones; she is wary; worried that the history of her failed marriage may repeat itself.

We follow Emma as she tries to reconstruct her life and move on from a troubled past, it is an interesting journey and for me an informative one.

Kelly has I understand started on a second book, I can’t wait to read it.

Meet Me in the Treehouse is available on Amazon

Meet Me in the Treehouse

Automating writing

Photo by Alex Knight on Pexels.com

I wrote this piece in 2014 I think but don’t recall posting it:

I came across a post on Linkedin recently promoting a piece of software that would automatically write articles on any chosen subject with material gathered by it from Google and other online sources.

Ultimately its’ main purpose seems to be to make websites more visible to Google, in order to improve search engine optimisation. For example I could start a search to produce an article on rose arches, I could specify its’ length and enrich its’ content to be full of the keywords suitable for my purposes. The sentences would be properly parsed and the result could be altered sufficiently to be largely original, references to sources can be included and identified. Whether at the end of the day anyone would find it as useful as something I had written (however badly) myself is another matter.

This undoubtably is a very clever piece of software and could save a lot of time. Whilst it is clever and possibly a masterpiece in software design it is ultimately to my way of thinking, in many ways totally devoid of real value or to be precise its’ output may well be devoid of value. If our purpose in life is to serve the interests, increase the status and the well being of Google and similar organisations then it is indeed potentially a tool of imense value. If on the other hand the real purpose of writing articles is to disseminate original thinking, communicate new ideas or engage in debate then its’ value is far less certain.

It could, it is fair to say, be used as a research tool, gathering together information easily and quickly but I think it more likely that it will become in the hands of the many, a means to produce items of very questionable value, except that is to the Google machine.

The question for me is whether or not we are losing the plot, this device seems to be the ultimate recycling tool, negating the need for research and scholarship. Taken to its’ furthest extreme it will end up recycling the recycled. Somewhere lurking in my memory is a paragraph or two from the Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Assimov which alluded to something like this. Isaac Assimov was prophetic in many ways I hope in this instance he was wrong.

I searched for automated writing software today and there is a lot available. The thought that crosses my mind is that some of the prolific blog writers are perhaps not sharing their own thoughts with us but that of an automaton.

The Backs Written by Alison Bruce a review.

The Backs written by Alison Bruce

Alison has become one of my favourite authors and I am gradually reading her Gary Goodhew series. I say gradually with good reason. I enjoy her writing and read the books one at a time with an interval in between each one, so I enjoy each one as a fresh read.

“The Backs” is number five in the series and number six “The Promise” is sitting on the shelf ready for my next special occasion.

The Backs, as is all of Alison’s books, the ones I have read so far, set in and around Cambridge. I am familiar with the city and the surrounding area. For me, this familiarity is a bonus.

Following a violent scene-setting prologue the action moves what was for the story the present day, the Gog Magog hills at night, a burning car and the discovery of a gruesome murder.

Jane Osborne’s return to Cambridge sets the story off in another direction and the plot weaves around several different strands. DC Gary Goodhew and the team he belongs to gradually, start to untangle the events leading up to the murder and hitherto undiscovered crimes of the past. In the process darker, secrets emerge from their hiding places.

As with all Alison’s novels (the ones I have read so far), the characters are well-drawn and the plot multilayered, as each layer is lifted more is revealed underneath. Each time the reader thinks they may have an inkling of who the villain may be or the possible outcome the ground shifts underneath.

All in all a damn good read.

My Writing Bag

The Writing bag ready for action

I have a back pack, my writing bag, that accompanies me on research trips, it was a Christmas present from my wife and it is very practical. The bag contains maps, notebooks, pens and something to eat. Sometimes I take a small tablet computer with me which fits inside nicely, a flask of drink and occasionally an umbrella clipped to the outside.

Often I will find somewhere to write while I am out, a library, a cafe, pub or even on a nice day a bench outside, in a park, a garden or other public space. My favourite writing places are probably libraries, there are additional means of research available using the library’s computers and internet.

My writing bag hasn’t been out at all this last year, unsurprising really with the lock down, I am beginning to assemble two new books in my mind and have written a few opening chapters for both. But I need to get out to visit the places I m writing about to find those extra details that Google cannot provide. At some point in the future I will need to return to Cambridge to help D I Arnold Lane with his enquiries. Hopefully soon it will be safe enough for a few day trips and excursions. My writing bag and me.

The Scent of Guilt by Tony J Forder, a review.

The Scent of Guilt by Tony J Forder

This is the second of Tony J Forder’s books featuring D I Bliss and his partner Detective Sergeant Penny Chandler.

Newly returned to Peterborough after twelve years away policing organised crime, DI Bliss joins the Major Crimes Team and immediately is thrown into a brutal murder enquiry. The murder appears to be the latest in a series. Bliss very quickly spots a possible link between a series of rapes and murders.

Penny Chandler now promoted to Detective Sergeant joins the enquiry as the rapes she has been investigating seem linked to the murders.

The search for the serial killer and rapist then becomes a desperate race against time to apprehend the culprit before he can add to his growing list of rape and murder victims.

The enquiry involves a trawl through old cases and incidents. When a pattern emerges a trip to the U.S.A. becomes a necessity to follow old leads. Bliss and Chandler know they are up against a deadline but don’t know what it is. Speed and accuracy are needed, the plot twists and turns as the desperate search accelerates to a cliff-hanging conclusion.

A satisfying, engaging, read, the characters are well-drawn and apart from the U.S.A., the settings are familiar to me.

Excellent, thank you, Mr Forder.

Degrees of Darkness is the next in the series and I shall be obtaining it before very long.

The Scent of Guilt is available on Amazon and from bookshops.

Raymond Chandler and some of his quotes.

Dust-wrapper design by C W Bacon for The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler (1949).

Members of the Creative Writing Group, Whittlesey Wordsmiths, know of my affection for the author Raymond Chandler. He wrote during the thirties, forties and fifties. Starting to write after losing his job in the thirties a result of the great depression. Chandler was a depressive, alcoholic and womaniser but I believe wrote some of the greatest one-liners and similes.

Chandler’s hero was a Private Eye, Philip Marlowe, (I can’t fault his choice of forename.) Marlowe is a complex character and Chandler’s novels explore this complexity and depth.

I wrote this piece a few months ago but I thought I would share it with you now.

I am reading Playback sporadically at the moment while trying to finish (with considerable help) beating my own first novel Killing Time in Cambridge, into shape. Playback was Chandler’s last novel and the only one so far not to have been made into a film. It was while reading it that I rediscovered the piece that inspired this article:

“On the dance floor, half a dozen couples were throwing themselves around with the reckless abandon of a night watchman with arthritis.”

For me, it paints a picture with an economy of words.

I have dug out a few more of Chandler’s gems to share with you to enjoy.

“She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket.” ~ Raymond Chandler Farewell, My Lovely ch. 18 (1940)

“It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.” ~ Raymond Chandler Farewell, My Lovely ch. 13 (1940)  

“He looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.” ~ Raymond Chandler 1940 Of Moose Malloy. Farewell, My Lovely, ch.1.

“Tall, aren’t you?” she said. “I didn’t mean to be.” Her eyes rounded. She was puzzled. She was thinking. I could see, even on that short acquaintance, that thinking was always going to be a bother to her.” ~ Raymond Chandler The Big Sleep: A Novel”, p.5,

“She had eyes like strange sins.” ~ Raymond ChandlerThe High Window: A Novel”, p.161,

“Alcohol is like love. The first kiss is magic, the second is intimate, the third is routine. After that you take the girl’s clothes off.” ~ Raymond Chandler The Long Goodbye ch. 4 (1953)  

“You’re broke, eh?” I’ve been shaking two nickels together for a month, trying to get them to mate.” ~ Raymond Chandler“The Big Sleep: A Novel”, p.90,

“From 30 feet away she looked like a lot of class. From 10 feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from 30 feet away.” ~ Raymond Chandler “The High Window”. Book by Raymond Chandler, 1942.

“Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.” ~ Raymond Chandler“The Big Sleep: A Novel”, p.42,

These books are of their time as were Conan Doyles Sherlock Holmes stories in a few sentences you are transported back to the time and place. Billy Wilder insisted on Chandler to write the screen play for Double Indemnity, he said, “No one writes dialogue better than Chandler.”

The Warboys Witches

The Warboys Witches

My wife lived in Warboys before we married and her brother still continues to live there in the family home. Fairly early on in our courtship and possibly before that as a resident of Huntingdon I was aware of the phrase the Witches of Warboys, I knew nothing of them other than that.

There was and is a pond in the centre of the village at the fork of the roads High Street and Mill Green it is called the Weir (pronounced ware). Popular legend suggests this is where the witches were tried for witchcraft and then drowned. The early method of determining guilt for witchcraft:

*It was a popular belief that a witch could not sink if submersed in water.  Suspected witches were put through a process called “swimming” or “floating.”  The victim’s left hand was tied to her right foot, and her right hand was secured to her left foot before she was thrown into a body of water.  It was believed that the innocent would sink while the guilty remained afloat.  Sometimes a rope was fastened around the suspect’s middle in case she proved her innocence by sinking beneath the water.  Both the Church and the courts of law disapproved this method of proving guilt, but it was still practiced throughout England (Holmes 137).

The Weir at Warboys as it is now (photo credit Robert Hogg)

This wasn’t the case with the trial of 76 year old Alice Samuel, her husband John and her daughter Agnes.

Alice’s accuser was initially Jane (possibly Joan by some accounts) Throckmorton the 9 year old daughter of the Squire Robert Throckmorton. In November 1589 Jane accused Alice of causing her to suffer fits, Jane’s four sisters and some of the family’s servants began exhibiting similar symptoms. When Alice Samuel was brought to see the children their illness became worse and they had the urge to scratch her.

Robert Throckmorton was a close friend of Sir Henry Cromwell one of the wealthiest men in the country at that time and grandfather of Oliver Cromwell. Lady Cromwell visited the Throckmorton household in March 1590, whilst there she interviewed Alice Samuel at the family home the Manor House in Warboys. The interview served to confirm as far as Lady Cromwell was concerned the suspicions the Throckmortons had of Alice Samuel. During the interview, Lady Cromwell cut a lock of Alice’s hair and gave it to Mrs Throckmorton to burn, (a folk remedy believed to weaken the power of a witch).

Lady Cromwell was tormented by Alice Samuel in her dreams and later was taken ill and died (she was buried in 1592). This death and the events in Warboys were enough apperent proof to put Alice and her family on trial for Witchcraft

The Manor House at Warboys (Estate Agents photo Fine and Country)

From Wikipedia:

The Throckmorton family

“The first allegations declaring Alice as a practitioner of witchcraft were made in November 1589. Following this, there were a total of twelve maid-servants of the Throckmorton household (in addition to the five daughters) who experienced fits and the torment of Alice Samuell’s witchcraft. Jane’s fits were described as such: “Sometimes she would neese [sneeze] very loud and thick for the space of half an hour together; and evidently as one in a great trance and sound lay quietly as long, soon after would begin to swell and heave up her belly so as none was able to bend her or keep her down, sometime thee would shake one leg and no other part of her, as if the palsie had been in it, sometimes the other, presently she would shake one of her arms and then the other, and soon after her head as if she had with the running palsie”.

Jane’s mother and grandmother were by the child’s side while other neighbors came to see her. When Alice Samuel came in, the child proclaimed: “Grandmother look where the old witch sitteth (pointing to Samuell) did you ever see one more like a witch than she is: Take off her black thrumbed [shaggy or fringed] cap, for I cannot abide to look on her”. Jane’s mother thought nothing of this at first, thinking her child was sleep deprived and sick. However, because Jane continued to get worse, her parents sent her urine to Doctor Barrow of Cambridge, who sent medicine to Jane three separate times thinking it would heal her. It did not. After the third time, the Doctor inquired whether there were any signs of sorcery or witchcraft involved that the parents could see. Jane’s urine was then sent to a family acquaintance, Master Butler, for examination and he sent back the same remedies that Doctor Barrow had sent. Exactly a month later, on the same day almost to the hour, two more of Master Throckmorton’s daughters fell sick to the same illness that was afflicting  Jane

These daughters, two to three years older than Jane, cried out: “Take her away, look where she standeth here before us in a black thrumbed cap it is she that hath bewitched us and she will kill us if you do not take her away”.

The parents were then worried, but could not understand why any such harm would come to them, for they had only moved into the town the “Michaelmas before” (September 29, 1588). Their youngest daughter, nine years old, fell sick less than a month later. Soon after this, the oldest daughter, fifteen years old, fell sick. She was sickest out of the five. Both cried out against Alice Samuell. Their eldest sister, had been the strongest, strived with the spirit, and was grievously tortured not being able to overcome it. This caused her to “(neefe), screech and groan very fearfully, sometimes it would heave up her belly and bounce up her body with such violence that she was not kept upon her bed”. When sitting in a chair, her fits often caused her to break that chair.

The daughters could not see, hear or feel while in these fits. They accused Mother Samuel, asking for her to be taken away. These fits would sometimes last for half a day and happened up to six or seven times a day. They believed that God freed them of this sorcery and afterwards, the sisters remembered nothing of what they had been saying. “

Following the death of Lady Cromwell in 1592 Alice Samuel was interviewed by a local clergyman she confessed to being a witch but withdrew her confession the next day, later she was interviewed by the Bishop of Lincoln and she confessed to him. She was imprisoned in Huntingdon together with her daughter and husband. The family were tried in April 1593 for the murder of Lady Cromwell by witchcraft. Alice’swords to Lady Cromwell,

“Madam, why do you use me thus? I never did you any harm as yet”, were used against her at the trial.  All three were found guilty and hanged.

Following her execution, the hangman and his wife examined Alice’s body and found a witches mark, the so called third nipple, a teat like growth on the pendula. This was taken as proof of guilt.

There seems to be no apparent motive behind the actions attributed to Alice Samuel’s actions in relationship to the Throckmortons. Lady Cromwells’s assault on Alice could be said to be a motive but without the Throckmorton incidents Lady Cromwell wouldn’t have been involved.

Agnes during the trial ended Jane’s (Joan’s)fits by commanding the devil to leave her. She (Agnes) also adimitted she was a witch and was complicit in the murder of Lady Cromwell.

The fens at that time were a strange place, getting around was either by boat, horse or on foot. The watery landscape was a place of mists will o’ the wisps, strange lights and suddden unexplained disappearances, the threat of disease too was never far away. Herbal remedies were for most people the only medicines available, opium poppies were grown widely, the opium produced was used for treating the symptoms of amongst other things the Ague. There is a fine line between those making and supplying medicines and those thought to be involved in witchraft, particularly in a time of ignorance and superstition.

The Secret Life of Bletchley Park Written by Sinclair McKay a review

The Secret Life of Bletchley Park by Sinclair McKay

The Secret Life of Bletchley Park by Sinclair McKay, a review.

Few people today are unaware of Bletchley Park and its vital work during World War 2, cracking the German Codes. Although many of us now know of the Enigma machine and have heard of Alan Turing there is much about Bletchley Park that wasn’t known, even amongst its veterans.

Mr McKay has taken the opportunity to talk to as many of the surviving Bletchley veterans as he could, to learn more of the Park’s back story. He sheds light on what went on behind the scenes. How mainly young, men and women drawn from all over the country came to work together on one of the most secret and important projects of the war.

The lives of the listeners, translators, code breakers and those who analysed the intelligence are discussed the problems of accommodation and travel are covered as is the social life of the park.

It is a fascinating book and illustrates the remarkable calibre of the people who worked at the park. Their tremendous sense of loyalty, is something to marvel at. Many took the secret of their vital wartime careers to the grave, children and spouses unaware of the value that work.

It is possible that had the true value of Turing’s work been more widely known he wouldn’t have been subjected to the terrible treatment that led to his early tragic death.

This is a testament to part of a great generation that did so much for those of us who followed, a story that needed to be told.

A Study in Green, introducing Shadrack Bones

Front cover of a Following Wind click on the link to order from Amazon.

Shadrack Bones made his first appearance in the excellent Whittlesey Wordsmiths collection A Following Wind, in the story:

A Study in Green

A Shadrack Bones Mystery

Philip Cumberland

Shadrack Bones, the consulting detective, and his assistant, Dr Wilkins, waited patiently at Leeds Aerodrome to board the aircraft taking them to Guernsey. There can’t be many steam-powered Zeppelins still in service, thought Bones, now that we have the internal combustion engine.

The stewardess made her way along the line of passengers. Her bustle didn’t seem that fashionable to Bones but, on reflection, ladies’ fashion was not something he studied unless it related to an ongoing investigation.

“You will have to put out the pipe, Sir,” said the stewardess. “There is no smoking allowed on the aircraft.”

Turning to Dr Wilkins, she said, “You will have to put that cigar out too, Madam.”

The irony of being told that they couldn’t smoke on a steam-powered Zeppelin whilst waiting as coal was being loaded was not lost on Bones.

“Look at that, Wilkins. They’re loading coal to power this thing, burning it by the ton, and yet we can’t smoke.”

“Actually its coke, Bones; it’s lighter than coal.”

“But they still burn it to fire the boilers, don’t they, Wilkins?”

“That’s true, but these are remarkable engines. They are a form of lightweight turbine; the boilers are extremely efficient and use a revolutionary condensing system. They were cutting-edge when they came into service. I read the paper by Professor Deitrich Stromm earlier.”

Dr Wilkins was not only a Doctor of Medicine but had a doctorate in mechanical engineering; her PhD was on advanced thermodynamics. Bones appeared totally to ignore the fact that Dr Amy Wilkins was a woman. Though she was attractive, Bones seemed only interested in her mind, a fact Amy Wilkins found very frustrating, as she loved Bones dearly.

After a relatively short interval, a tall man in a German style military uniform, with peaked cap, riding breeches, jackboots and wearing a monocle, strode up and boarded the aircraft. The passengers boarded next; there were twelve including Bones and Wilkins.

Whilst they were waiting to take off, Bones turned to Wilkins and said, “That paper you read by Stromm, was it in German?”

“Yes, why?”

“I didn’t know you spoke German.”

“I know it reasonably well. I am more fluent in Russian and Italian.”

“You have hidden depths, Wilkins.”

Yes, thought Wilkins. To you, my femininity is perhaps the most hidden.

The trip was uneventful. They took on more coke south of Canterbury but that was the only break in their journey.

Bones and Wilkins were investigating the loss of Cuttleworth’s secret gravy recipe. It had disappeared on a recent trip to Guernsey. Lord Jericho Cuttleworth was the owner of a successful chain of fast-food restaurants. Cuttleworth’s Pie and Pudding Emporiums sold a pie, baked potato and carrots together with a mug of tea for threepence. Their trademark strapline was, “The secret is in the gravy”. Yorkshire’s most famous son was troubled by the loss of his gravy recipe. Although he knew it off by heart, the thought of it falling into the hands of his rivals frightened him.

Retracing the steps of Lord and Lady Cuttleworth’s recent trip to Guernsey, they were using the same airline, staying at the same hotel and occupying the same room. For the purpose of the investigation, Dr Wilkins was travelling as Mrs Bones, wearing her late mother’s wedding ring for the journey.

The aerodrome at St. Peter Port in Guernsey was small and close to the town. The journey to their hotel, The Victor Hugo, took fifteen minutes by horse and trap.

Bones helped Wilkins down from the trap and they signed in. Dr. Wilkins found signing as Mrs A Bones very odd. They were shown to their room by a maid who appeared to be in her late teens. Once they were in the room and the maid had departed, Wilkins turned to Bones.

“This won’t do, Bones; we are sharing a room as man and wife but are unmarried.”

“Why is that a problem, Wilkins? You are a medical man – sorry, woman. You have seen enough of the male body in your time, I have seen all too many of our species of both sexes in all states of disarray.”

“But it isn’t right, Bones.”

“Very well. I will marry you when we return to London. I can hardly do it here, since we are, as far as the hotel is concerned, already married.”

“Is that a proposal, Bones?”

“Well, you brought the subject up. Do you want me to marry you or not?”

“Very well, but you hardly seem to notice me: certainly not as a woman.”

“You are four foot eleven and a half inches tall. Your boots, size four, have two-and-a-half inch heels, which bring your height to five foot two. You have brown eyes and dark brown hair, which you have cut short at Mr Andrews’ barber shop in Jerome Street every four weeks. Your hair is kept short so that it cannot catch in machinery when you are working as an engineer. You have small strong hands, normally you wear nothing on your hands or wrists, so that there is nowhere for dirt to accumulate or anything to be caught in machinery. You keep your nails short; your hands are kept clean by rubber gloves when you work. You normally wear your mother’s wedding ring on a fine gold chain around your neck. Your bust is about thirty-five inches, your waist uncorseted twenty-five inches; your hips are wide – about thirty-six and a half inches – allowing for easy childbirth. You generally wear black silk stockings, which you buy from Mrs Rogers in Regent Street. Oh, and you have a tiny chip on the corner of your front right-hand tooth, probably caused by the rebound of a hammer.”

“A spanner slipped. It wasn’t a hammer that chipped the tooth, and it was very painful.”

“I didn’t mention your mind. Yours is the finest I have ever encountered; when we age, when our youth and looks have fled, we will still have our minds.”

“Thank you, Bones.”

“Right. Now let’s get back to the case in hand. Lord Cuttleworth said he hid the formula behind a panel in the base of the wardrobe. He always carries a special pocket knife which has a screwdriver blade.”

Bones produced a large magnifying glass from his case, dropped to his knees, and inspected the bottom of the wardrobe. The front panel was secured by two large screws.

“Have you brought your tool kit with you Wilkins?” asked Bones.

Wilkins produced a small red leather case from her handbag and handed it to Bones. He opened it and removed the screwdriver. The screws were not tight, and Bones guessed this was a well-used hiding place.

“We could do with a light Wilkins.”

“I have a small electric torch: a prototype. Mr Etherington gave it to me. It has a small spring-powered dynamo to produce the power.”

Wilkins reached into her capacious handbag. Removing the torch, she released a catch and passed the torch to Bones. The torch began to make a whirring noise, producing a bright beam of light from one end. Bones shone the torch into the space beneath the wardrobe.

“Aha!” he exclaimed. “Look at this, Wilkins.”

The intricacies of Wilkins wardrobe made it difficult for her to get down on the floor next to Bones, but she managed it nonetheless.

“Look to the left, towards the back at the floorboards, Wilkins.”

“I see. One appears to be loose; there is a gap around it and it extends into the next room.”

“Quite so. Pass me the screwdriver again please, Wilkins.”

Wilkins passed Bones the screwdriver; Bones paused and turned to Wilkins.

“We had better find out if the room next door is unoccupied before we do any more.”

Wilkins stood up and went to the door. “I will check.”

Wilkins knocked on the door of the adjacent room. Getting no response, she checked the door. It was locked. She relayed this information to Bones before walking downstairs to the hotel reception. There was no one at the desk and the register lay open in full view.

Surreptitiously she rotated the register and quickly checked the occupants at the time Lord and Lady Cuttleworth were staying. A Mr Houghton was occupying the adjacent room; his address was given as 15 Atkinson Street, Hyde in Cheshire. The room appeared to be unoccupied at present.

She spun the book back around just before the hotelier reappeared at the desk.

The hotelier, a Mr Morose, was a shortish grey-haired man. He was, Wilkins guessed, in his late sixties. A copy of The Times lay open on the desk near the register, the crossword uppermost – all of it filled in.

“My husband and I wondered if the view of the harbour would be better from the room next door to ours; is it currently occupied?”

“Not at the moment, Madam.”

“Would it be in order for us to have a look?”

“I can’t see any difficulty in that,” said the hotelier and handed Wilkins the room key.

Once in the adjacent room, Bones was quickly on his hands and knees in the right-hand corner. He pulled back a rug and located the suspect floorboard that extended under the wall. Using Wilkins’s screwdriver, he unscrewed the single screw securing the floorboard and removed it. He was then able to reach into the space under the wardrobe next door. He quickly replaced the floorboard and, after retightening the screw, replaced the rug.

They viewed the harbour together from the window, Bones putting his arm round Wilkins waist – the first time he had made any physical contact apart from the shaking of hands. Wilkins moved closer in response.

“We know how it was done and roughly when it was done but not yet by whom, and we don’t know where the recipe is now,” said Bones.

“What about Mr Houghton who occupied this room whilst Lord and Lady Cuttleworth were staying here?”

“We can’t discount him, but my money is on a member of the hotel staff. Lord Cuttleworth said he used a small piece of Plasticine as a seal on the wardrobe panel, and that hadn’t been disturbed.” Bones continued, “It is my guess that a member of staff, knowing when both rooms were unoccupied, took advantage of the situation and removed the recipe. It is unlikely that Houghton would know of the special floorboard, whereas a member of staff either knew of the floorboard or arranged it.”

“What do you propose to do, Bones?”

“Setting a trap would seem the best option, Wilkins. But we need a speedy result, before the value of the recipe is realised and it falls into the wrong hands – that is, if we are not already too late.”

Later that day, the manager of the hotel signed for a registered package addressed to Mr S Bones, Victor Hugo Hotel, St Peter Port, Guernsey.

The package was handed to Bones as he and Wilkins returned from a walk in town. Once safely inside their room, Bones opened the envelope, peered inside and put it to one side.

“I sent it from London before we left.”

“Why did you do that, Bones?”

“I thought we might need some bait. Look at the sender’s address on the back.”

Wilkins took the envelope, turned it over and read aloud, “Bank of England, Threadneedle Street London.”

Bones opened his suitcase, took out a small jar, removed the lid and poured some of the contents into the envelope. He then resealed the envelope, recapped the jar and replaced it in his case. The wardrobe panel was unfastened. Bones put the package in the compartment and refitted the panel, tightening the screws with Wilkins’ screwdriver.

“What is in the jar, Bones?”

“Sneezing powder, it should give anyone opening the envelope a surprise and alert us at the same time – if we are within earshot.”

Opening his suitcase again, he removed an envelope and several sheets of blank notepaper. He folded the notepaper, placed it in the envelope, and sealed the flap with sealing wax. Taking a pencil from his pocket, he marked the envelope, S Bones. He asked Wilkins to take the package to the desk and ask if it could be deposited in the hotel safe.

After a late supper they retired for the night. Bones was irritated when Wilkins wore her Mrs Edith Spencer’s impenetrables to bed, insisting that Bones could only avail himself of her facilities once they were properly married.

It was at 1.30 am that Bones woke Wilkins, shaking her gently but with his hand over her mouth. He hissed a warning for her to remain quiet. They heard a faint scraping sound, consistent with a floorboard being slid from under the wardrobe. Bones quietly left the bed, putting on his dressing gown over his nightshirt.

Anticipating such an event, Bones had earlier removed the two screws securing the panel under the wardrobe. He now dropped to his knees and, swiftly removing the panel, reached into the compartment and grasped the wrist he found there.

Wilkins bounded out of bed and raced into the next room. The moonlight streaming in from the uncurtained window revealed the silver-haired hotelier lying prone on the floor.

She grabbed a copper warming pan, fortunately empty and cold, from the bed and swung it hard down on the hotelier’s head, knocking him out cold.

Bones, hearing the bang and feeling the wrist go limp, got up from the floor and joined Wilkins in the adjacent room.

“Well done, Wilkins.”

“I think if we are to be married you should start calling me Amy, Shadrack.”

“Very well, Wilkins – sorry, Amy.”

The hotelier started to regain consciousness, groggily removed his arm from the floorboards, and sat up. Bones demanded the return of Cuttleworth’s gravy formula.

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” he said.

“The game’s up, Mr Morose. Dr Wilkins is a crossword expert too and has completed today’s Times crossword.”

“I still don’t understand what you are alleging.”

“She is also a cryptologist, often employed by the British government.”

“And?”

“The key to the code was MrHoughton15AtkinsonStreet. It has twenty-six characters, the same as the alphabet. She was able to decode the message hidden in the crossword accepting your terms for the sale of the gravy recipe.”

Seeing the game was up, Mr Morose led them to the office and retrieved the recipe from a secret drawer in his desk.

Lord Cuttleworth, overjoyed at the return of his recipe, not only paid Bones and Wilkins a handsome fee plus expenses but also provided the wedding reception at Cuttleworth Hall.

Copyright P W Cumberland 2019.

What Lies Beyond Sci-Fi Stories of the Future, Edited byJ K Larkin, a review

What Lies Beyond

Stephen Oliver, one of the book’s contributing authors gave me the heads up on this terrific collection.

The Generalist is Stephen’s contribution and thoroughly deserves its place in this book with the other excellent stories. Stephen’s stories are always unusual and quirky not only displaying an orignality of thought but also quality writing.

A cousin of mine named Startruck her favourite in an earlier collection “Where the Wild Winds Blow.” Another book showcasing some of Stephen’s work.

So what of the other stories? they were all exceptionally good but I particularly enjoyed Preacher by Lisa Diaz Meyer and The Felinedae Mission by Debbie De Louise, those who have cats would regard this as entirely plausible.

The Railway Carriage Child by Wendy Fletcher, a review.

Despite reading and promoting this book I haven’t reviewed it, on this my blog.I thought I had but it seems not I am now correcting my oversight with sincere apologies to Wendy.
The Railway Carriage Child is a beautifully written account of a young girl’s childhood, growing up living in an unusual home made from two Victorian railway carriages.
The account is so vivid you feel you are there with Wendy as she revisits those times, walking through the Fenland town that was her childhood home and now is again. We feel we are sitting with her on the bus and seeing the world through her eyes.
The finest auto biography I have had the pleasure of reading.

I look forward to reading more from this talented author I understand she has two more books in the works.

It is available on Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Railway-Carriage-Child-Wendy-Fletcher/dp/1916481736/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=the+railway+carriage+child&qid=1610984138&sr=8-1

Killing Time in Cambridge a review by Stephen Oliver

Stephen was kind enough to buy my book and has given me this wonderful five star review on Amazon, he has also posted it on his own blog too. I write not just for my own pleasure but hopefully to entertain others, it is gratifying for me when I have succeeded.

Killing Time in Cambridge

This is not part of my publishing career, but I would like to promote a novel written by a friend of mine, Philip Cumberland.

It is a cross between a time-travel adventure and a police procedural, with intense descriptions of local colour. The premise is fascinating, and the execution extremely well done. 

The tale gripped me from the beginning because of the interesting, quirky characters, like Arnold, Sylvia… and, of course, Marvin. Their interactions were believable, and the character-building using dialogue was credible. The world-building, basing itself on the real Cambridge and the countryside of the Fens as it did, brought a touch of reality to an otherwise bizarre and twisted tale. Well, time travel will do that to a story.

If you like stories that are a bit out of the ordinary (and time travel and police procedural under one roof are extraordinary), you should enjoy this journey into the past… er, future? Um, whenever…!

Oh, and I loved that little plot twist at the end, hinting as it does to a possible sequel.

The author assures me that he has made every trip mentioned, been to every scene described, and walked (and timed) every outing within the city. I have not spent much time in Cambridge, but I can visualise how it was on the days of the murders…

If you’re looking for something different and interesting, I can thoroughly recommend it.

Stephen Oliver

If you would like to read it for yourself there is a link to Amazon on the photo title or click here https://www.amazon.co.uk/Killing-Time-Cambridge-Philip-Cumberland/dp/1916481779/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1610177186&sr=8-1

The Silence by Alison Bruce a review.

The Silence by Alison Bruce

I have enjoyed all of Alison Bruce’s books. The Silence is no exception. The story is set in the, for me familiar comfortable setting of Cambridge.

The story builds on a series of tragic events that seem to have little in common initially, other than the ages of those involved and suicides. As the plot unfolds we are on the edge of our seats hoping that those involved remain safe and escape unhurt while the tension increases as the truth is revealed.  The finale for me was so profound that the book affected me like no other since reading  The Catcher in the Rye. This is a gripping story that engages the reader completely.

A very suitable addition to a recommended reading list for secondary schools, in my opinion.

Not the normal Father Christmas Experience

Father Christmas

Every year I dress as Father Christmas and visit the children’s Christmas Party at a local nursery school.  Usually I hand out presents to the children who are dressed in their Christmas finery, the boys in Superman suits, Spiderman suits, in Father Christmas or Rudolph Jumpers and in one or two cases dinosaur suits. The girls mostly wear princess and party frocks or dresses with Rudolph or Santa on the front, without exception; boys and girls, all wear enormous smiles. After I have given out the presents and before my accompanying elf leads me to the next classrooms the children sing me a song or two, usually “When Santa got stuck up the Chimney” or “Jingle Bells.” I love it and so do the children.

This year has been a little different, I changed into my Father Christmas outfit at my daughter’s and she drove me to the school, I did get some excited attention from grown up ladies waiting on the kerb for us to pass.

I went around the school waving to the children through the classroom windows, ho hoing and shouting Merry Christmas as loud as I could. The boys and girls were wearing their Christmas finery and enormous smiles as usual but although I was sung to and the children enjoyed themselves it wasn’t the same, for either them or me.

Father Christmas would be my second career choice after multi billionaire playboy, to be able to give happiness is probably the greatest gift we have. Even if I can only manage it for a few hours a year I gratefully grab the opportunity.

I hope things will be back to normal next year.

Merry Christmas Everyone.

The Moment Before Impact by Alison Bruce, a review

The Moment Before Impact by Alison Bruce

Most of us I am sure are familiar with books that you can’t put down because you want to know what happens next but don’t want to the story to end because they are so good, this is one of those books.

The story is set in and around Cambridge, the streets and places are familiar to those who live in or visit the city. For others who do not share that familiarity with the city, a Google search makes it accessible and I am sure encourages readers to visit and see it for themselves.

The plot is engaging and draws the reader in, Celia Henry a tenacious former reporter tries to make sense of the circumstances leading up to a serious road accident. Those involved have become  the adults she watched growing up as children while their neighbour.

An open and shut case becomes increasing more open and less shut as the story moves on with Celia prompting the police to look again. The story grips and holds the reader as it twists and turns revealing more of the back story.

One word describes it for me “Brilliant” but don’t take my word for it, read it yourself.

More please Mrs. Bruce

The Moment Before Impact is available on Amazon and in book shops.

Time Will Tell, written by Eva Jordan. A review.

Time Will Tell by Eva Jordan

Time Will Tell is an onion of a story, as each layer is peeled off another is revealed beneath. The  book weaves together a murder mystery and a family saga.

The back story, set in the sixties London’s East End, is familiar to those of us who lived through those years.  My knowledge of the East End came from those who had migrated to my home town courtesy of the slum clearances but although I didn’t know the East End first hand, I knew the time.  I lived through the sixties, enjoyed the music and the overwhelming sense of optimism. The world was getting better. I suppose having known that time and that optimism, its crashing reversal in the later seventies and eighties hurt those of us of a certain age far more.

Time Will Tell gives an insight into the criminality lurking under the surface in the East End and the picture is both detailed and compelling.

The catalogue of villainy from the East End  crime gangs, slowly surfaced over time with the holding to account of the Krays and Richardsons. It also became apparent as time passed that there were hidden figures, those not held to account at the time.

It is not all about the past, the central topic, the quest for justice and exploitation are all too present problems.

We travel with the well drawn characters, as they carry us along through the story, we care for them.

The final twist is a real gem.

A damn fine novel, an excellent read from Eva, she is a talented writer. I am looking forward to her next book.

Time Will Tell is Available on Amazon,

Leaping off

Corpus Christi College Cambridge Grasshopper Chronophage on the cover of Killing Time in Cambridge.
Killing Time in Cambridge

Well, I have leapt off the diving board and published my novel Killing Time in Cambridge. The first printed paperback book arrived on Wednesday and I have had my first review for the Kindle version.

Rather mixed feelings, relief that I have finally done it, a sense of tiredness and anticlimax. I hope that it will not only sell but more importantly those who read it enjoy the story, The feedback so far has been favourable.

My next novel is underway whether it will get finished is always an open question but I am pleased with the opening chapter. It is slightly different from the first, with different characters. However if Killing Time in Cambridge proves popular Arnold Lane may have a second outing.

If you would like to buy it on Amazon click here:

Killing Time in Cmbridgehttps://www.amazon.co.uk/Killing-Time-Cambridge-Philip-Cumberland/dp/1916481779/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1606719444&sr=8-1

David Richard Todd in Memoriam

David with Jarvis the Cocker Spaniel

Last Monday the 19th of October a great many of the occupants of Wyton village in Cambridgeshire lined the streets to say goodbye to a truly remarkable man. The workforce of the company where he had worked since leaving school, stood at the roadside and clapped as the hearse passed by, carrying David Richard Todd on  his final journey.

David  was a loving husband, a wonderful dad, a caring son, brother, brother in law uncle and friend. He was also an international athlete, Beaver pack leader and thoroughly decent human being.

David was born in 1961 grew up in Woodhurst was educated locally and started work aged sixteen as an apprentice at the Beamglow Company in St Ives. Eventually he was to become the company’s Technical Manager.

When he was seventeen he suffered life changing injuries when his motorcycle was in collision with a double decker bus. For a few weeks he clung to life. As he was overcoming this battle the realisation that his spine was so badly damaged that he would no longer walk again dawned.

He was moved from  Addenbrooke’s  to Stoke Mandeville Hospital, the wards at that time were the wooden huts that remained after the second world war.  The conditions were cramped, there was barely space between the beds for even a chair. It was while he was there that the amazing character of the man shone through. He would say how lucky he was, mentioning fellow patients that had suffered even more horrific injuries than his own and his concern for their well being.

After many months he left Stoke Mandeville returning home to live with his parents and back to work at Beamglow. He learned to drive a car and was soon back on the road, the song by Manfred Mann’s Earth band, Davy’s  On The Road Again seemed to be his theme song.

He married Angela in 1983. they stayed together until David’s death and were a devoted couple. Their marriage was a true partnership.

Encouraged by his time in Stoke Mandeville David became a proficient sportsman, playing basketball before turning his talents to wheelchair racing. He became successful at this, not only racing in Great Britain but also representing his country internationally, in the process travelling widely throughout the world.

When interviewed for his first management position, David was asked how he could manage people from a wheelchair? His reply if he couldn’t manage people it wouldn’t be possible to get on and off planes in foreign countries, ensured the job was his.

His son Stephen was in the local Beaver group, when it seemed likely to close because the leader was stepping down David stepped forward and took on the role. He continued for fifteen years, the children loved him and it gave them a practical demonstration on how to overcome disability.

David travelled widely his last major holiday was a road trip in the USA with his son Stephen. Driving along Route 66.

Three years ago David was diagnosed with cancer, after surgery things seemed to be improving unfortunately the cancer returned, spread and became terminal. He wanted to die at home, Angela insisted she be allowed to care for him in the closing days of his life, she told the doctors, for her caring for him in sickness and in health meant exactly that.

In the early hours of the first of October David lost his last battle to an infection he no longer had the strength to fight. He died at home.

I have lost a real hero, those that knew David were inspired by him, learned from him and gained immeasurably from contact with him.

David during his wheel chair racing career

The world is a poorer, emptier place without him.

Standing on the Diving Board

The Front Cover

I am getting close to finishing my book the writing is done and the corrections are well underway. The cover design is nearly finished and I hope to publish very soon.

It is an interesting situation for me to be in, I have had some writing published and been touched that people have enjoyed my work. There is no greater vote of confidence than someone buying your work, no, perhaps there is. A lady picked up a copy of “Where The Wild Winds Blow” at a U3A meeting looked at my name badge and asked if I had written anything in the book she held. When I said I had, she leafed through the book and started reading, “Where does the Pope buy his Frocks?” after a few minutes she was laughing out loud. It was a moment of pure magic for me.

At the moment I have mixed emotions, I want to be finished and published but hesitant, wondering about how much more polishing and tweaking it needs to make it as good as possible.

 I suppose the closest analogy is someone standing on a high diving board for the first time. Edging their way to the end wanting to jump, to dive in but worried that the neatly executed movement they have planned will end in a belly flop.

There is only one way to find out and I will in the next few weeks when I dive in.

In the meantime:

Where Does the Pope Buy His Frocks?

“I often talk to myself, sometimes out loud, mostly though within the confines of my mind. I am not sure whether it is just my way of marshalling thoughts or a rehearsal of how the words may sound when spoken.”

“That’s very interesting Mr Fontain,” said Miss Rogers, my analyst, “But you must realise there are times when sharing your thoughts vocally may not be appropriate.”

“I don’t know, sometimes it can liven up a boring occasion, even make it interesting.”

“It can offend though.”

“No one has the right not to be offended.”

“What about the occasion of the Queen’s visit?”

“All I said was she is not my mum and I wish she would stop sending me begging letters.”

“But why use the megaphone?”

“She was a long way off and I wanted her to hear, I am fed up with her writing to me, I don’t even know the woman. It got a lot of laughs though, a cheer and a round of applause.”

“What about the fight afterwards.”

“The Queen started that, well some of the blokes with her did.”

“The police?”

“They had no right to try and steal my megaphone, it cost me a lot of money. It is a good job the people nearby thought the same, I’ve still got my megaphone thanks to them.”

“Would those people be the Fens Republicans?”

“I think some of them might be, I know a couple come from Ely, some from Chatteris and at least one from Huntingdon.”

“The Queen had to cut short her visit because of the fighting; a lot of people were very disappointed.”

“Well, they shouldn’t have started the fights then should they? As I said, no one has the right not to be offended. When I am offended I don’t start fighting people and trying to steal their stuff do I?”

“No, you use your megaphone. What about the visit by the Pope to Cambridge?”

“All I said was I wonder if he got his frock from Marks and Spencer or John Lewis.”

“Through your megaphone wasn’t it?”

“Most people thought it was hilarious. I think even the Pope had a chuckle.”

“That caused more trouble.”

“The police again, trying to nick my megaphone, it was a good job most of the crowd were on my side and I had my bike handy for a swift getaway.”

“The getaway caused problems too didn’t it?”

“The students on their bikes you mean?”

“Yes, they blocked off most of the roads in the city centre to stop the police didn’t they?”

“I heard about that. Again, it was the police causing trouble; you would think they would be chasing criminals wouldn’t you?”

“How on earth did you manage to smuggle you megaphone into Parliament?”

“It wasn’t easy, I had it wrapped up in a parcel and pretended to be a courier delivering it to an MP. Once I was in I got changed and sneaked into the chamber.”

“But why shout out Black Rod stole my elephant?”

“Because what I really feel, what I genuinely believe, I cannot say. My voice is silent on the really important issues – on the lessons we haven’t learned. Mostly, I talk to myself; that audience always listens.”

“Okay, Mr Fontain same time next week. Back to your cell now.”

I am a proud member of Whittlesey Wordsmiths, a writing and publishing Cooperative, you might like to find out more about these books from our collection

Click on the picture to read more or order from Amazon

Front cover of a Following Wind click on the picture to read more or order from Amazon
The Railway Carriage Child. Click on the picture for more information or to order
Witch Way Click on the picture for more information or to order
A year before Christmas click on the picture for more information or to order
Unleash Your Dreams: Going Beyond Goal Setting (NLP, the Law of Attraction, the Universe and You Book 1) by [Stephen Oliver]
Unleash Your Dreams. Click on the picture for more information or to order.

A Guest post from Stephen Oliver

Stephen Oliver's Author Blog

Stephen is a member of our local U3A writing group.

He is an excellent writer. His stories are well written articulate and above all entertaining. Most of Stephen’s work is within the Science Fantasy genre it is always a good read.

Some of his short stories are published by Whittlesey Wordsmiths in their anthologies, Where the Wild Winds Blow and A Following Wind.

Here are Stephen’s thought on Submissions:

Submissions

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about submissions to agents and publishers, given that I’m sending out three different books and a whole bunch of short stories to them. I have come to several conclusions about how much work is involved, what information you need to know, and how much preparation you need to undertake.

I’ll call the agents and publishers AP’s to shorten the article.

I now have around a dozen different versions of my manuscripts on the computer. Some AP’s want double-spaced, others 1.5 lines spacing. Some want Times New Roman, others Courier New. Some want indented paragraphs, others require no indentation, but want an extra 6 point space at the end of the paragraph. And so it goes.

Then comes the file formats: .txt, .doc, .docx, .rtf., .pdf. Attached to email, embedded within it, or uploaded via the submissions page. In the latter case there are often length limits on the number of words or characters in the upload space, often not stated.

How much do the AP’s want? 5 pages? 10 pages? 30 pages? 3 chapters? 50 pages or 3 chapters, whichever is the shorter? The whole manuscript? (Hurrah, but don’t count your chickens yet; I’ve been rejected at this point, too.)

The bios: short, long, one-liners. How much do they want to know?

Publishing histories; what have you already go out there? Short stories or books? Self-published or traditional?

Social media links. Are you on Facebook? Pinterest? Twitter? Instagram? Are there any interviews available? If so, where? What are the links?

To read the rest of his blog Click on the link:

http://stephenoliver-author.com/2020/09/05/submissions/

A chance encounter.

 

Aaron

Aaron in training for his marathon hike.

I usually go cycling several times a week. Nearly always every Wednesday with the local U3A cycling group other times with individuals from the group or on my own. Often, you pass people on the cycle tracks with a hello or other short greeting, occasionally by chance, the opportunity presents itself for longer chats.

On Saturday I was sheltering under a railway bridge from the rain along Southbank. I had stopped to have a drink from my flask when a man came walking in from the Whittlesey direction. He was a tall well-built chap and was carrying a heavy-looking backpack.

We struck up a conversation, Aaron was training to walk around Great Britain to raise money for charity. He thought that the journey around the country would take him two years

When we met up he had walked twelve miles so far and had another four to complete before getting home. I left Aaron to finish his journey and returned home. I said I would mention our meeting and his monumental journey on my blog. Hopefully, Aaron will read this and send me further details of his planned journey. I certainly admire his spirit determination and fitness. I wish him every success.

 

Witch Way a review

Witch Way

Witch Way

Cathy Cade’s book of short stories and poems is a wonderful collection of well-written pieces, each one beautifully crafted.

The range of subjects is wide and eclectic embracing beautifully written children’s stories, fascinating mysteries together with truly delightful poetry. There is something in here for everyone, every item is a brightly polished gem.

My favourite but only just is the beautifully picturesque Witch Way. The characters inhabit your imagination, so beautifully are they drawn. It is for me like watching a film of the story rather than reading the words on the page.

It is a gift few writers have.

Cathy is a writer of extraordinary ability I am looking forward to reading more of her work.

Available on Amazon

Witch Way on Amazon

It will soon be available on Smash Words too:

Smashwords

Cathy’s Blog is always worth a visit:

Cathy’s Blog

An early morning Cambridge.

Close up of Grasshopper Clock at Corpus Christi College Cambridge.
Close up of the Grasshopper clock Corpus Christi College Cambridge

I  needed to go to Cambridge to take photos when there was sufficient good daylight and an absence of people. Fearing greater activity with the easing of restrictions, I rose and ventured out early, very early in fact. Leaving my house just before 5 am, I was parked up in Cambridge at 5.57, there was just one other car in the car park when I arrived. Using back roads for the journey I saw probably no more than six vehicles but I did see a black squirrel, it darted across the road in front of me.

Black Squirrel
Black Squirrel from Dash Cam

I had brought two cameras, just in case, I didn’t want to repeat my journey, normally I use the guided bus, parking at St Ives. Given the current state of affairs and the necessity of an early start I used the car. Walking along Emmanual Road beside Christ’s Pieces another squirrel scampered out to cross the road a grey one this time.

Grey Squirrel
Grey Squirrel crossing Emmanuel Road, no traffic, fortunately.

Cambridge was the quietest I’ve known it. The combination of a Saturday, the earliness of the hour, the lack of students and the lockdown all combined to give the place a sense of total abandonment. The destination was the corner of Benet Street and Trumpington Street, to photograph the Grasshopper Clock housed on the wall of the Taylor Library at Corpus Christi College.

Grasshopper clock at Corpus Christi College I used this photo for the cover of Killing Time in Cambridge
Grasshopper clock at Corpus Christi College I used this photo for the cover of Killing Time in Cambridge.

It is for me a beautiful piece of work, functional artistry. The clock is mechanical, using principles first developed by John Harrison in the eighteenth century. The grasshopper sitting on top, gobbling the minutes up one second at a time There was just one person I saw sleeping rough a woman in a shop doorway along Trumpington Street. An improvement from the many I have seen in the city at other times. Why can’t we look after people better?

Deserted Trumpington Street looking towards Gonville and Caius College
Deserted Trumpington Street looking towards Gonville and Caius College

I was back in the car and driving away before 6, the walk back to the car park saw market stalls being set up but I didn’t notice one shop that was open. The same car was the sole occupant of the car park when I left for home.

Christ's College entrance
Christ’s College entrance
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